People Download Lots of Apps, But Many Get Discarded

App makers are quick to talk about downloads. And why not? It’s the most obvious metric for usage and consumer adoption. But according to analytics firm Localytics, 26 percent of apps downloaded last year were only used once. That means those overall download stats often mask the fact that many apps fail to catch on with users.

According to Localytics, which studied the thousands of Android (s goog), iPhone (s appl), iPad, BlackBerry (s rimm) and Windows Phone 7 (s msft) apps with its analytics service one-time usage is on the rise from quarter to quarter in 2010. While this news may be helpful for Localytics to help push its real-time analytics service, it also drives home the point I made recently that developers face increased pressure to nail the design of their apps, or face app abandonment.

According to a Harris survey commissioned by Effective UI last year, 74 percent of app users think their app should be easy to use while, 75 percent think it should do exactly what they want or need it to do. That may sound demanding but when users have hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from, they don’t need to wrestle with an app to get it to work. They can just ignore it and move on to another piece of software that provides similar functionality.

The increasing challenge is to get an app that is both effective but elegant. App developers need to worry about keeping it simple to ensure high retention and low churn. And that requires some hard choices especially as apps get more complex. But the Localytics numbers show that it’s not enough to get the download: Developers need to keep users engaged.

The Localytics data also suggests that we may need a better measuring stick than total downloads. It’s nice to hear that users are downloading apps but it’s not safe to assume they’re being used regularly. We need better metrics to measure how apps are really faring with consumers. The apps that consistently keep users engaged are the ones that make money over time and are the ones to learn from, not just the splashy apps that trigger fast downloads but no consistent use over time.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):